Thursday, April 22, 2010

Strawberry: Crows

This morning a crow landed on the veranda and looked at my strawberry lustfully. I scared it away, but if it knows where the strawberries are, it will most likely come back.

Here's the biggest strawberry. It is looking really good. In a week or so it should be fully ripened and ready to eat.

I guess if the crow eats it, this picture will just be for posterity...

Where did I put that greenhouse?

Tomato: Seedlings coming along

The weather has again taken a turn for the worse and so I'm worried about the young tomato seedlings. The past couple days have been really warm and sunny, and the seedlings perked up a lot. However, if the frost comes tomorrow morning, these little guys may be wiped out in one fell swoop.

I took the opportunity last weekend to thin some of the plants. Since each pot received 3 seeds, some pots needed thinning.

Unfortunately, the fluctuating weather has been tough on the seedlings, and a few pots are unpopulated. It's okay, though, I really didn't need 16 tomato plants growing all at once.

I had originally expected that the plants would be much bigger by now, actually. The seedlings at the home center are all at least 10cm tall, but mine are barely 2cm. But it is still early in the planting season and so these seedlings still have 3 more weeks before they need transplanting. If the weather holds up, they should be 10-20cm in a couple more weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Strawberry: Pink, it's my favorite color

I've got a bunch of little strawberries growing now, but the oldest one is definitely the most interesting.

Since I added the strawberry fertilizer, the plants have become much healthier and the fruits are much bigger than usual. The biggest fruit is plump and just beginning to turn red.

Typically, every year I get one nice fruit like this, and then a few scraggly fruits that make it half way to ripeness and then rot on the vine. But maybe it's the fertilizer or the extra attention it is getting, but the fruits are forming very nicely and the plant doesn't seem to be stressed at all.

We've had some pretty cold days lately, but the strawberry plants are handling it very well. This particular strawberry may be ready for picking in a week or so.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pepper: Leave a pepper, take a pepper

Except for the hail and winter temperatures on Saturday morning, this weekend was absolutely beautiful. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the mosquitoes were biting, and I got a bunch of gardening done.

One of the big things I had to do was decide what to do with the bell pepper plants. As I mentioned a while back, I have two plants. One is a green pepper and was really cheap. The other is a red bell pepper from Del Monte. The planter they are in takes up a lot of space, and if these plants aren't going to be productive I can't justify them sticking around.

First, I took a good look at the red bell pepper. It has been nothing more than a stick since last autumn, and it didn't seem to show any signs of life. I pushed some of the soil off of the roots and found that most of the root was dried out and brittle. There was some root fibers that were still alive, but the majority of the plant was clearly dead. I uprooted the entire thing and tossed it into the mulching pit.

Next, I looked again at the green bell pepper. This plant has had the same leaves since last autumn, and also seems lifeless. However there were a couple hopeful signs.

The first positive sign was newly formed nodules and leaflets along the stem. These surely a dead plant wouldn't produce such things. I took some pictures. You can even make out what seems to be a flower forming along with the leaves.

The picture is grotesque, but it's just an extreme closeup of the nodules.

The other positive sign was a green stem. The top of the plant was broken off in a wind storm and it ended up looking like a dried out stick. I took some shears to it and snipped off the ragged end and found that the inside of the stem was green and moist. Clearly, the plant was still absorbing water, and that also bodes well for the plant's health.

Since peppers are generally a summer vegetable, there is still a lot of time for this plant to recover and grow. I'm going to keep my eye on it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Broccoli: Harvest time

Today is harvest day for the broccoli! The floret was nice and big, and I think leaving it on the plant any longer would have led to it flowering and ending the fruiting season completely. There were also small florets forming near the bottom of the stem, so cutting this one may send some nutrients their way.

Here's the harvest!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I'm not going to be feeding anyone on this meager amount.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Broccoli: Floret looking delicious

About 10 days ago, I noticed there was a small floret growing in the center of the broccoli plant. In just this short time, it has grown and looks like it is almost ready to harvest.

The floret is now peeking out over the rest of the leaves and is clearly visible. The stem is almost 8cm long, and the floret is about 3cm across.
The base of the plant is still worryingly thin, as you can see in the picture on the right.

Also, there is only one floret growing. I expected a few growing simultaneously like branches. Will harvesting this one encourage the growth of new florets, or will it mean the end of my broccoli? I'll find out soon, I think.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Potatoes: A look at the leaves

This past weekend I spent an hour working on the veranda garden. After several weeks of growth, the potatoes look really healthy and the plants are getting very large.

I'm almost regretting not buying a larger planter because the two plants seem very close to each other. The minimum separation between potato plants should be 30cm, alternatively each plant should have a 15cm radius area just for themselves.

This planter is 45cm across, and each potato is right up against the edge. At most, there is only 20cm separating the two plants. This is probably going to affect how large each harvested potato will be.

Since the plant is in a pot and not out in a field, it's important to make sure that older leaves are removed in a timely manner to provide more nutrients to the newer leaves. I spent a few minutes taking off the bottom branches.

Also, potato plants grow upwards (like any other plant), but the potato spuds are going to grow laterally and close to the surface. This means, that as the bottom leaves are removed, it helps to add some soil to give the spuds more room to grow.

I thought the pattern of leaves was especially interesting. Like many things in Nature, it exhibits a fractal pattern. The particular branch shown in the picture below is approximately 25cm in length.

Another reason to add more soil is to protect any growing spuds from sunlight. When a young potato is exposed to sunlight it turns green and crunchy and potentially poisonous. The green comes from chlorophyll exposed to sunlight. The poison is a chemical called solanine. So to prevent the loss of these growing potatoes, it is important to add soil as the plant grows.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Strawberries: Quick update

New strawberries are forming like crazy. By last count, there are 10 fruits forming, and that is leaving out small ones that may or may not actually form into actual fruits.

The first strawberry is still growing. The shape of the fruit of this particular plant has always been a little weird, and this fruit is no different. A little crumpled up on the end and fat in the middle. These would never sell at the grocery store!

I went back to the home center and bought another bag of strawberry fertilizer. The next day, they called me to tell me they had found my lost bag of fertilizer. I need to visit them ASAP to see about getting a refund.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Broccoli: A floret becomes visible

It's been a little less than a month since I put the broccoli into its pot, but today I found a little floret forming in the middle of the plant.

Broccoli is new to me (as is most gardening, to be honest), so I went back and did some reading about the plant species and this particular cultivar. I made a mistake in originally calling this particular variety "gai lan". Gai Lan is similar to kale with smaller, edible leaves. The particular cultivar I am growing is probably (though I'm still not 100% confident) called "sprouting broccoli".

Interestingly, most of the sources I've read point to broccoli being a cool weather plant. Cool autumn and spring weather in the low teens (°C) are perfect for it. The informational label says the plants will be edible within 3 months, so hopefully spring sticks around for a while. The weather has been relatively cool lately with lots of rain. There have been a couple days of sun, but the temperatures haven't gone above 20°C in Tokyo yet. I had always assumed it was a summer plant.

I moved the pot off the veranda floor onto the A/C unit outside. We don't use the A/C, so it's more of a shelf than anything else at the moment. Raising it up higher also exposes the broccoli to more sunlight which I hope helps it grow.

The stem is still very thin. In the past two weeks we've had some very strong winds which have resulted in the broccoli stem bending at the base. Most broccoli that I've seen have at least an inch thick stem, I'm left wondering if the stem will increase significantly in girth in the next month.

In this picture, you can see the floret hiding in the middle of the stalk.

You can also make out some green strawberries in the planter behind the broccoli. The one in particular I took a picture of last week is now twice the size!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

NHK 野菜の時間 Yasai no jikan

Every Sunday morning at 8:00am, NHK's educational channel broadcasts a program called 「野菜の時間」 (yasai no jikan - "Vegetable Time"). I discovered this program in early November and have been faithfully recording it every week.

What is really cool about this show is that it is recorded within a week before broadcast, so the weather events and seasonal changes that I am experiencing are also dealt with by the program. The planting phases that the program goes through each week can be mimicked by viewers. This means that when the program shows that this week is a certain time to do something (treat for bugs, prepare soil, harvest), the viewer is able to follow along in real time.

Additionally, this program has an accompanying monthly magazine that describes the content of the show. I haven't bought the magazine, but I thumbed through it at the bookstore and was impressed at the detail of information contained.

This week it seems like they've started a new broadcast season and the old female host has been replaced by a new one. Last year they introduced 西城秀樹 (Saijo Hideki), a Japanese entertainer with little more than an interest in farming/gardening. In a year, he's become pretty adept at all the various gardening skills the program has taught. I think the new host is to also go through a year of learning.

NHK works similarly to the BBC, in that it relies on a "tax" paid by TV owners. Every year, a fleet of taxmen work their way through neighborhoods ringing doorbells and asking for payment. It is a very inefficient system.

First of all, the broadcast is available by tuning in to channels 1 or 3. There is no way to be blocked from receiving the broadcast. This is be design, since the government intends that the NHK can act as an emergency broadcasting system.

Second, the taxmen can only collect money from people they talk to. Many people avoid paying the NHK tax simply by pretending to not be home. Other people avoid paying by intimidating the taxmen. Needless to say, most people are not paying the tax.

Sitting around watching my gardening show, I thought about this problem a bit and how I would be more amenable to paying the tax if there were an actual value that I felt I gained from the NHK. The solution I came up with makes a lot of sense to me.

What if the NHK provided a DVD set of 1 or 2 NHK programming series plus additional monthly material like the magazines I mentioned above? This would actually encourage viewers to pay the tax, and a set of physical items which people who didn't pay wouldn't receive.

Of course, everyone I know pays the tax...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Crazy wind today

We are getting some really serious wind today. I've brought the avocados and broccoli pots inside.

The tomato sprouts are probably okay for now, unless they get flipped over. The potatoes are small and seem to be taking the wind in stride. And the peppers don't have a lot of leaf area to blow away, so I'm not going to trouble myself with bringing them inside.

Torrential rain forecasted for this evening too. What a world. What a world...